Medina County 4-H, an organization that promotes hands-on learning and life skills, has evolved over a century to shape thousands of young leaders for success.
4-H first arrived in Medina County in 1919 with a few projects on display at the fair.
Four years later, exhibits from 15 different areas were showcased in a 4,000-square-foot tent. Judging at the fair began in the 1930s, with only steers auctioned at its first livestock sale for about 13 cents per pound in 1940.
A new focus on nonagricultural projects followed in the 1970s. Dozens of 4-H projects now are featured in 12 buildings on the fairgrounds during Medina County Fair week.
4-H recognizes its roots in agriculture but continues to add new projects, such as crossbow, graphic design and geology.
“To keep 4-H alive, you have to relate it to what is going on now,” said Pat Cornell of Seville.
Cornell is a member of the Ohio 4-H Hall of Fame and a 4-H volunteer for 36 years.
“The 4-H project needs to be tailored to meet the youth’s needs,” she said.
Michele Paullin, a 4-H volunteer for 20 years and former county Extension secretary for 30 years, said she has seen the evolution of 4-H.
“Back then, you had girls doing cooking and gardening, and boys did lawn care,” Paullin said. “They’re more diverse with their projects now.
“It’s also very family-oriented with the whole family getting to explore the learning aspect of the project.”
Celebrating history today
The 4-H organization will kick off its birthday celebration this spring, as it welcomes new and returning members to 40 clubs throughout the county before April 15, the enrollment deadline for this year.
The Ohio State University Extension Office coordinates the county’s 4-H program for more than 1,000 youth ages 5 to 18.
“It’s amazing to see youth have new experiences,” said Morgan Domokos, the county 4-H Extension educator. “4-H is about being engaged and learning. Through 4-H, you can find your career. You can apply the knowledge and skills gained from 4-H throughout everyday life.”
4-H clubs, led by adult volunteers, enable young people to expand their abilities and interests through leadership opportunities, community service and project work.
Members participate in activities after choosing a topic to explore from more than 200 projects, ranging from photography to genealogy to all-terrain vehicles. A learn-by-doing approach allows 4-H members to gain new knowledge and skills.
They might identify birds, design living spaces, assemble a small engine or plot their family history.
“It opens an array of connections around the community through the different projects,” said Garrett Wright, 17, of Medina and the Hinckley Highlanders 4-H Club. “You can find new passions you didn’t think about before.”
Reaching beyond county
4-H members also are involved at the county, state and national levels.
They develop important skills, from communication to team work, as they take on leadership roles. Youth can serve as club officers, plan overnight camps, lead small and large groups or travel on award trips.
“As you continue to stay in 4-H, it opens up different leadership activities and paths,” Wright said. “You can become a part of 4-H boards and committees and have influence in the community.”
John Lowe, a 4-H volunteer for 40 years, said: “I have always believed when you let kids know you have high expectations, they will meet them. We give them the education and support to meet these goals, and they succeed time and time again.”
Cecilia Mainzer of the Hinckley Backyard Buzzards 4-H Club won the state’s achievement award for leadership and traveled to National 4-H Congress in Atlanta last year as one of 25 Ohioans.
“4-H gave me opportunities I never thought were possible,” said Mainzer, 18, of Hinckley.
“I have gained life skills and connections across the nation. It’s crazy to think I got to speak on youth preparedness before the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. 4-H is everything you can possibly imagine.”
Youth attended their first camp, called the 4-H Club Boys and Girls Institute, in Hinckley in 1921. It became known as Camp Crag. Forty years later, 4-H members ages 9 to 13 joined an overnight camp on Kelleys Island in Lake Erie.
A Cloverbud Day Camp for members ages 5 to 8 opened in 1991 on the fairgrounds.
Trained 4-H teens work with adults to help plan, lead and supervise the camps.
“I like being able to provide kids who gather together a wonderful time and a break from everyday life,” said Wright, a 4-H camp counselor.
Lowe, of Wadsworth, agreed.
“The campers communicate with nature,” he said. “They form a new family. They see other adults who care about them. A big part of any camp is the physical separation. What better barrier than for a youth to get on a boat and go to an island? It’s magical.”
Other opportunities for teen leadership include the county Junior Leaders Club, which initiates community service, educational and social events, as well as operates the milkshake booth at the fair. The youth manage the small business, from ordering dairy supplies to calculating costs, with proceeds benefiting the club and program.
The booth first began as a milk stand serving only white and chocolate milk in a small tent in 1940. Its menu added ice cream cones and milkshakes in 1966.
The milkshake booth moved to a permanent location a year later and recently established a new, larger facility in 2016.
The 4-H program has introduced a slew of programs over the years to help youth grow in self-awareness, responsibility and citizenship.
‘4-H is timeless’
A program called Cloverbuds began in the county in 1988 for younger 4-H members and expanded throughout the state.
The 4-H Junior Fair Board is a 40-member group that helps prepare and manage livestock shows during fair. Members also help lead and facilitate discussions at the county’s annual Sister-to-Sister Summit that explores issues facing young women.
“4-H allows you to begin from an itty-bitty Cloverbud,” Mainzer said.
“It’s a program where you can keep developing and perfecting and not age out. We’re helping the youth of today become the leaders of tomorrow.”
4-H continues to grow and offer diversity to its members in every state and across the globe in both rural and urban areas.
“4-H is timeless,” Lowe said.
“The core values of learning by doing and making the best better will always be central in a successful life.”